To this day Raiders' fans say it was illegal and should've been ruled a dead ball. At the time, the rule in the NFL was that an offensive player could not touch or tip the ball to another offensive player after the ball left the quarterback's hands. Fair enough. Terry Bradshaw off of Jack Tatum to Franco Harris. Ballgame.
December 23rd, 1972. AFC Divisional Playoff game. Steelers vs. Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium. 50 years ago. What would become known as the "Immaculate Reception" a single play that would define an entire generation of Steelers teams. A video that went viral before the internet was even around. Here's what viewers saw at home.
The legend and lore of this play almost supersede the play itself. But at its core, it was a simple pass play. The call was 66 Circle Option, intended for WR Barry Pearson. Instead, QB Terry Bradshaw felt the pressure from the Raiders' defense and threw an irresponsible pass to HB John Fuqua.
Jack Tatum, would then collide with Fuqua and ricochet the ball into the waiting hands of Franco Harris. Harris would take it 60 yards to the house.
This was well before instant replay was used, and by all accounts, the play was completely legal. Raiders' players were furious at the moment. Some claiming that Tatum never touched the ball. Others arguing that the ball hit the ground before Harris caught it.
This was the '70s. There were no HD cameras back then. It also didn't help that even the camera operator was fooled on the live feed. That's literally how far the ball ricocheted. Just recently someone unearthed the game film from that play, and it's the closest we'll probably ever come to seeing what actually occurred.
Following the play, referee Fred Swearingen took an infamous sideline phone call. He was talking to NFL Officials Supervisor Art McNally, trying to confirm what had happened. Throughout the years former Raiders' players involved in the play, have theorized wildly that Swearingen had asked McNally if they had enough security in place insinuating that the fans would riot if the call was overturned.
These claims are based on fiction and nothing more. Adding to the Christmas-like magic of it all, Harris was quoted after the game saying simply, "Right place, right time."
Franco Harris interview from the locker room immediately following the Immaculate Reception. pic.twitter.com/ZI9Jtf7FVL— Ryan Recker (@RyanRecker) December 21, 2022
Legends never die. Rest in Paradise to the man who gave us the greatest play in NFL history, Franco Harris.